17. The French Cultural exception

17.1 The French Revolution

In France, the historical tradition makes of the French Revolution (1789) the mother of the republican project. The existence, before the Revolution, of European republics (Venice, Geneva, the Low Countries and Corsica) and New World republics (Iceland, the US) is evacuated from the mind of the French. The Republican tradition of France makes of it the incarnation of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Human Rights and Civilization.

The Magna Carta (1215) insisted in its article 1 that it be followed not only by John Lackland but also by his successors, forever. The article 2 of this chart states that the conceded liberties will be enjoyed by all free men and their descendants. The Bill of Rights (1689) stipulates in V. and VI. that it engages the future. In XII, it declares that future dispensations will be invalid and without effect. The Constitution of the USA (1787) states in its preamble that it is established for the people and their descendants.

These examples of good governance, permanence of laws and stability are significant progresses in humanness but were ignored by the French legists, who knew better. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789) explicitly states that sovereignty resides in the Nation. The preamble of the first Constitution (1791) asserts that there is no authority superior to that of the civil servant. The Declaration of Rights of 1793 asserts (article 28) that constitutions and laws are temporary, amendable at will. This contingency, inherited from the Ancient Regime and the teaching of Machiavelli, is further reinforced by a right to private property allowing anything in its use that be not forbidden by law (articles 6 and 16). The martial song “La Marseillaise” (1792) states “Take arms, citizens, and that an impure blood drenches our fields” 1 (fig 17.1).

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Figure 17.1. “La Marseillaise”. Colossal high-relief (Rude, 1832) at the Arc of Triumph, in Paris, place de l’Etoile. La Marseillaise became the national hymn in 1795 and again in 1879.

All art plays an ideological role. Art is involved in upholding -or challenging- a system of values. I have given numerous examples of this. As a function of a given ideology, works of art project a picture of the world. Rude (1784-1855), at one time exiled in Belgium, magnified Napoleon and the French Empire. He was commissioned to adorn the Arc of Triumph in Paris with a high relief magnifying the Revolution.

Rude was a free mason and rationalism was his ideology. This relief, a masterpiece paradigmatic for all of nineteenth-century sculpture, is one of the last examples of narrative sculpture based on rationalism. The rationalist model holds that logical arguments follow a temporal development: if this, then that. Causes and effects depend, for their very relatedness, upon the passage of time. For Rude as for his French contemporaries and precursors, time was the medium through which the logic of social and moral institutions revealed itself. Hence the exalted position they gave to history painting. History was understood to be a narrative involving the progression of a set of significances driven toward the meaning of a climactic event. Rude’s relief is essentially a narrative that aspires to comprehend the movement of historical time and man’s place within it (see also fig. 14.1 and fig. 15.12).

Rude understood his task as transcending the simple representation of a moment from the French Revolution. He wanted to uncover its meaning. In order to achieve this aspiration, Rude organized the composition along two axes: a horizontal axis that separates the soldiers from the winged Victory, and a vertical axis that runs from her raised hand down to her pubis, through the vertical juncture between the two central soldiers. The meaning of the composition revolves around the point where the two axes join. The soldiers emerge from the wall at the far right, move forward and proceed left toward a radiant future. At the point of contact with the vertical axis, the two central soldiers recognize Victory. As they mirror the image suspended above them, they arrest the horizontal flow of the soldiers’ movement through space and time to signify the moment of dawning of consciousness about the meaning of Liberty.

In Politics, rationalism is a plea to the maintenance of the Status quo ante. Political rationalism holds that things are as they are because they were so and hence must be that way. The French Revolution led by the rationalist free masons ended up with an hereditary emperor replacing an hereditary king, with an Imperial law replacing the King’s law, with the abolition of the last legal protections of citizens’ associations and groups, with the re-establishment of slavery, with the callous pursuit of a savage policy of expansion, with the plundering of the wealth and works of art from Europe and the Near East (Napoleon stole works of art by the hundreds from Italy, Belgium, Germany, Greece and Egypt, which he displayed in the museum Le Louvre).

As early as Rodin (1840-1917, at one time exiled in Belgium), European artists, Frenchmen included, produced an art intensely hostile to rationalism. This movement of rejection of a rationalism that stood bail for the absurdity of the modern world, concretized in the midst of WW I by the Dada movement that rose in Zurich and in New York in 1916. These countries were not, at that moment, engaged in the conflict. The word Dada was voluntarily devoid of sense. Dada’s enemy was reason as a vehicle of power. Dada was the expression of an intense disgust. After the war, the dada movement blossomed in a defeated and senselessly humiliated but rationally plundered and impoverished Germany. In 1920, the Swiss Dada movement moved to Paris, where Breton fastened on the word “surrealist”. Breton’s wartime experience was acquired in a hospital for shell-shock victims. His contact with mentally severely disturbed patients led him to realize that the unconscious operates with a different kind of energy from that of the conscious mind. Surrealism was Breton’s weapon against positivism, a way of attacking “rationality”. As war and destructions went on throughout the following decennia up to our own time, artists produced an art that reflected their disgust. Happening, pop art, the new realism, conceptual art derive from it. Today, a monumental blown up brown mound of shit, about 6 meter high, is displayed together with an equally big rosy pig, as an art object at the Middelheim museum, in Antwerp.

The national song La Marseillaise and the high relief made by Rude indicate that France pretends to defend the values of Equality and Fraternity while in the mean time it proclaims its chauvinism. It does it in the smallest details: the coelacanth is a prehistoric fish living off the coasts of the Comoro islands, which are a French dominion. The French have put an embargo on the export of coelacanths and consider the fish their exclusive property. In 1998, the French geneticist Pouyaud, backed and supported by all French academic authorities, claimed discovery of a new coelacanth species in the waters of Indonesia, despite the fact that the find was made on September 1997 by an American biologist at a local fish market (C. Holden: Dispute over a legendary fish, Science 284, 1999, page 23). Likewise, studies on the genome of Frenchmen are forbidden outside France. In the same vein, the French company Merieux built a P4 laboratory in Lyons, for the study of exotic pathogens. It called on American specialists (Susan Fisher-Hoch and husband McCormick) to mount it. As soon as the laboratory became functional, in 2000, Fisher-Hoch was dismissed and replaced by a Pasteur man. In contrast, the Bush administration named the Algerian–born Zerhouni to head the National Institute of Health, in 2002.

Thus armed with contingency, chauvinism, a global view of society and the concept of indivisibility of absolute power entrusted to civil servants deemed incorruptible and all-knowing, the French Revolution replaced the king’s benevolent government by capital executions and mass murders. When the Bastille surrendered to the revolutionaries (fig. 17.2), it detained only 7 people. The eighth prisoner, the marquis de Sade, imprisoned not for his writings (Justine) but for his debts, had been transferred somewhere else a few weeks earlier because he had quarreled with the director of the prison! Despite the promise that the surrendering guardians would keep their lives, they were all killed upon surrender.

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Figure 17.2. The assault on the Bastille. It was leveled to the ground. The Fall of the Bastille, on July 14, 1789, celebrated as a national holiday in France, is regarded as symbolic of the Revolution, although it was largely only an irrelevant demonstration of the destructive power of the Parisian populace, a key factor then and today.

In 1789, the Revolution adopted de facto the Imperial Law by suppressing the intermediary bodies that administered the social groups composing the society, leaving the individual alone to face the Sate. The Yiddish-speaking derelict Jewish communities incorporated into the Nation through the conquest of Alsace by Louis XIII and XIV suffered most of it.

Revolutionary France rejected with a disconcerting lightness the Christian heritage that was the motor of the technological development of Europe, as well as the humanist message of tolerance and love that this message carried. Atheism and the cult of Reason were dispensed in a destructive and obscene manner. The despise of the catholic religion, whose goods had been confiscated and whose representatives had been rudely mishandled and killed, attained a summit with the imprisonment of Pope Pie VII, on 6 July 1809. A lucid Michelet underlined (Histoire de la Révolution française, preface of 1847) the profound incompetence, stupidity, shortsightedness and greed of the leaders of the French revolution. He pointed out that, if anything good had been achieved at all by this revolution, it was solely thanks to the people freed from their leaders. The answer of the State was not to take correcting measures but was to forbid Michelet to teach.

The Revolution reinforced the dehumanization of the country by substituting the Empire to the Crown. Napoleon backed the regime of Terror led by Robespierre that ruled France in 1793-1794. At age 26, Napoleon, an artillery officer, opened fire on Parisian demonstrators, killing a hundred of them. This was the first firing on civilians that the new Republic registered. Napoleon won therewith the gratefulness of his political bosses who opened for him the path toward power by naming this reliable officer forthwith commander of the army. Napoleon counted on free masons for the administration of the country. His police and army were led by free-masons and this is still the case today.

The Christian heritage of the nation was rejected and an atheist posture was ostensibly taken. Cathedrals and abbeys, including Cluny, were leveled to the ground. Jewish cemeteries were profaned and destroyed. The country was devastated: “what constitutes the Republic is the destruction of all that opposes it” asserted Saint Just without laughing. The opposition must have been great because the destructions within France and without were immense. The destructions of the World’s heritage in France, 225 years ago, exceeded in magnitude those we have recently witnessed in Afghanistan. The cavalry of the Napoleonic armies occupied the Pope’s palace in Avignon. The rooms and chapels were used as horse stables. The Chinese did the same in Tibet occupied since 1951: monasteries were transformed in swine stables, monks were forced to fornicate in public and at least 1.5 million Tibetans were killed.

Ignorant of the progresses in civilization achieved by neighboring countries, revolutionary France thought itself entrusted with a sacred mission of propagation of revolutionary ideas supposed to be liberating although in reality they were enslaving, whereas the real social progresses conquered during the Revolution had been acquired already a long time before in a pacific way in neighbor countries as the Principality of Liege, the Netherlands and England. For revolutionary France, the world had its eyes focused on France and its virtues and must look with envy at this model, of which the whole world must, by necessity, inspire itself. Those who are not French surely aspire to become so, and this thought serenely justified European expansion, annexations and colonization. About 40,000 Algerians were massacred in 1947 at Setif because one single Algerian had dared to wave one single Algerian flag during a parade, in a Muslim country that France had assimilated to a French department.

Revolutionary France pursued a policy of territorial expansion (fig.17.3), of wanton destruction of Church property in annexed lands associated with the pillaging necessary for its sustenance, but the free-mason rationalist theoreticians of the regime recommended total war for its achievement. Slavery, abolished during the Revolution, was restored in 1802 and definitely abolished in 1848. The first French Empire extended the boundaries of France to the Baltic (the department of the Oriental Ems) and the Adriatic Seas. It plunged Europe in an awful ruin, which amplified during the next two centuries with devastating wars conducted with the same logical spirit of total destruction advocated by the French Revolution.

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Figure 17.3. The first French Republic pursued the policy of territorial expansion of Royal France. Corsica was captured in 1789, the year of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen by a schizoid nation, and was annexed to France by Napoleon in 1796. In 1799, Napoleon annexed the island of Elba (a premonition) and Turin, later recuperated by Cavour. Belgium, parts of Western Germany and of Northern Italy were annexed and incorporated into the Republic. In 1807, the Empire stretched its frontiers to the Baltic sea and the Adriatic sea.

The French Revolution devastated France and the world at large. Christian royalist Vendee (i.e. mainly Brittany) was ravaged in 1792. Its inhabitants (catholic Celts) were physically, systematically eliminated. This is the first ethnocide perpetrated in modern times on European soil by a central atheist (freemasonic) government. The region remained for ever prostrated. Followed the Rule of Terror in 1793, the Napoleonic nightmare, Waterloo in 1815, the occupation of Paris in 1870, the savage repression of the Parisian Commune in 1871, the devolution of Alsace and Lorraine in 1871, the bloodbath of 1914-1918, the rout of 1940, active collaboration with nazi Germany during WW II, the horrible excesses committed on German prisoners, on the Alsatian population and on “collaborators” in 1945 and finally bloody colonial wars, all lost in advance. This unending succession of defeats and embarrassing conducts, often denied during centuries, could not remain without consequences on the mental health of a population of which French historians and contemporary media underline relentlessly the intrinsic superiority of its civilization over all others, whereas the events they suffer in daily life demonstrate them the reverse.

What is the spirit of this people that endures with resignation so great sufferings which it sees to befall on itself only, and accepts horror whereas it lets accomplish in its name so great evils?

References

1. In French: “qu’ un sang impur abreuve nos sillons”.

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